By some estimates data centers now consume more than two percent of the United States’ electricity, and tech giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft have spent hundreds of millions of dollars greening up their operations by buying renewable energy as the economy increasingly moves into the cloud.
For companies that outsource their work to the cloud, though, there’s no way to know whether a data center is being powered by planet-warming coal or carbon-free wind, nor whether it is energy efficient or a power hog. But what if you could push a button, say a green button, so all web pages—like this one—were served up in the most environmentally benign way possible?
That’s the idea behind a patent recently issued to IBM for “environmentally sustainable computing in a distributed computer network.”
“We want cloud providers to use the most environmentally friendly equipment they have but they’re not doing it now as the industry standard,” Keith Walker, an IBM master inventor—yes, that’s his title—told The Atlantic.
Rather the industry standard is to get the job done as fast as possible regardless of the environmental consequences. The system that Walker helped invent would change that. It would give data centers operators what IBM calls a green button. The operator would push the button when a customer wanted computing performed in the most environmentally friendly way possible, even if that meant the task would take longer. Once pushed, the computing task would be performed at data centers using the greenest electricity and on machines that were the most energy efficient.